Self-Demand and Social Media: A Dangerous Trap

If we use social media as a mirror we're doomed to feel imperfect. Because in the digital world that's dominated by filters and false happiness, we're made to believe that only those who work hard to achieve those precious goals are rewarded with thousands of likes.
Self-Demand and Social Media: A Dangerous Trap
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 29 November, 2022

If there’s one scenario that invites continual social comparison, it’s social media. At the same time, it’s a most stimulating field that invites learning and is a fabulous tool for connecting and keeping us informed. However, like most areas linked to new technologies, it has a dark side.

In fact, spaces like Instagram and TikTok are everyday black holes in which many people -especially the youngest- look to be entertained. But they often find themselves falling into certain traps. The kinds that make them believe that the most important things in life happen on a screen. This makes many adolescents use these applications as mirrors with which they ‘deconstruct’ their own images.

Every day, these young people see a romanticized version of a filter-constructed reality. It’s a universe in which every influencer is exceptionally careful about what they portray. Indeed, perfection attracts and arouses fascination, so they have to portray their lives in the best possible way to gain those likes they thrive on.

The tyranny of perfection, whether it’s related to a body or a lifestyle, calls for the most destructive self-demand. This is a commitment that, far from allowing us to reach our best versions (healthy kinds), leads us to exhaustion and failure to achieve unrealistic goals (pathological).

Perfectionism doesn’t bring happiness. In fact, it’s the kind of existence in which, sooner or later, we fall into an abyss of anxiety and depression.

girl who suffers from the relationship between self-demand and social networks
Studies tell us that social media increasingly reinforces self-demand and the need to be perfect.

The culture of unhappiness: self-demand and social media

Currently, self-demand is seen as a socially desirable trait. However, although it’s positive and advisable to reinforce our sense of self-improvement, everything has a limit. There needs to be a balance to ensure it doesn’t lead to suffering and self-rejection.

As a rule, the most obsessive and self-demanding perfectionists pursue unrealistic and completely impossible standards. This increasingly leads to failure. Moreover, they suffer feelings of inadequacy, fallibility, self-depreciation, and the slow destruction of their self-esteem.

The sad thing is that we live in a culture that constantly pressures us to be better. In the fields of marketing, advertising, cinema, and fashion, everything appears to be of a consistently high standard. Therefore, the task of accepting and loving ourselves becomes complicated, as we tend to see many more defects in our lives than in those of others.

Self-demand and social media make an extremely problematic pairing to which we should pay more attention.

Young people are increasingly becoming perfectionists and are self-demanding

Research conducted by the University of Bath (UK) claims that new generations exhibit greater perfectionism than their parents. As the decades have passed, this personality factor has been on the rise, and the link that seems to promote it is social media. To understand this relationship, we must take into account a number of factors.

The first is connected to the time adolescents spend in front of a screen. On average, they spend about five hours a day, maybe more. Therefore, we might say that young people between the ages of 13 and 29 have built their identity through platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch, etc.

These little virtual worlds are inhabited by attractive people who live perfect lives and have achieved exceptional things (like having millions of followers). Indeed, the heroes of the 21st century are, for the most part, influencers, with whom young people compare themselves. It’s from them that their self-demand emerges. They want to have the same bodies or achieve the same goals as those reference figures they admire so much.

Social media isn’t the only reason for many people rejecting themselves for not being like the celebrities they follow. Culture and even our education inoculate us with the idea of being the best, the most perfect and infallible.

The spell of social media and self-critical perfectionism

Self-demand and social media draw a line in which mental health breaks down and is put in check. We must understand that, behind many eating disorders, often lie self-demand and obsessive perfectionism, through cognitive rigidity and the need for control.

Scenarios like Instagram tend to attract many young people who already have low self-esteem. Exposing themselves to a world loaded with filters, where physically attractive successful people abound, encourages these boys and girls to develop pathological behaviors to achieve those impossible bodies or goals.

We must point out that anxiety, depression, or eating disorders are more likely to occur in young people when they reinforce self-critical perfectionism. In other words, they don’t tolerate making mistakes and they punish and despise themselves for not being like their reference figures. In effect, for being imperfect. For being human.

Are you looking for perfection? Does everything you do have to be flawless? Do you punish yourself when you gain weight or don’t look attractive enough ? If so, you’ve fallen into the trap of self-demand and unhappiness.

Boy looking at the mobile at night representing the link of self-demand and social networks
Excessive perfectionism has increased exponentially in recent years due to social media, which we use to compare ourselves with others.

Accepting imperfection is the cure for anxiety

There’s one principle worth remembering that was born in the theory of social comparison defined by Leon Festinger in 1954. It claims that we naturally tend to compare ourselves to others. Therefore, we often take the reality that surrounds us to look at ourselves and scrutinize ourselves to see what similarities we have with others. Above all, to see what differentiates us from those we observe.

We yearn for the triumphs of others and dream of having the same kinds of bodies as those we admire.  Above all, we aspire to be as our culture dictates – perfect and successful. That said, few narratives could be more distorted than those sold to us from spaces like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

We must teach children early on the need to accept themselves, to strive for what they want, but be tolerant of imperfection. Self-demand and social media make up an equation from which we must protect them. We must explain to them how to use these applications properly and promote good internal dialogue.

If we lowered our self-demand quotas, we’d also lighten our anxiety and discomfort quotas. After all, psychological well-being is the healthy ability to tolerate our mistakes in order to learn from them. Mental balance means appreciating ourselves as we are, with our virtues and imperfections, without obsessing over false ideals built on the basis of filters and half-truths.

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  • Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2019). Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145(4), 410–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000138
  • Crusius, Jan & Corcoran, Katja & Mussweiler, Thomas. (2022). Social Comparison: A Review of Theory, Research, and Applications.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.